The Bushrangers: A play in five acts

And other poems

The Bushrangers


Charles Harpur

SCENE I.—A Garden.


Lucy. She must be in the garden; for but now
I saw her, from the window, culling flowers
Wherewith to decorate the drooping boughs
Of yon old willow; under which, it seems,
She first consented to become the bride
Of her lost lover.

Mrs. L.        ’Tis her constant use,
Singing the while some doleful ditty, which
I think she makes herself, each turns so sadly
Upon her own wild state. But do you think,
Lucy, her reason never will return?

Lucy. Let’s hope the best. Oh, ’twas a cruel stroke!
And as the hawk, with unexpected swoop,
Assaults the roostage of the innocent doves,
Suddenly falling on her brain, it scared
Her guileless wits away. Yet is she not
Quite mad, or in the way that most are mad,
Seeing her feelings, though distempered, keep
The old track still;—nay, even her reason trades
In sad realities, though lifted up
Into the cloudier region of her soul
By a wild-drifting fancy. ’Tis her voice!

Enter ADA, singing.

When last she saw her lover, his eye
    Was bright as any gem;
His cheek and lips were ruddy and warm,
    And she was all to him.

But when she saw her lover again,
    His eye was sunk and dim;
His cheek and lips were pallid and cold,
    And she was nought to him.

And then to wither within the grave,
    They laid each manly limb:
To her may he come never again,
    But she shall go to him.

She speaks.
To go down to the pit so soon—so soon!
The old grey head is for the pillow of clay;
But Abel’s raven locks were all too fresh
For the cold grave—the damp dust! Oh, my head!
The foolish thing is trying to split. Oh, oh!

Mrs. L. My poor, poor Ada! Why will you grieve thus always?—
Thus banish peace for ever?

Ada.        What! not grieve?
If you say peace unto the roaring thunder,
Will it be silent?—If you chide the wild
And wilful wind, when it comes wailing over,
Will it breathe softly? And my grief should be
Louder than thunder! wilder than the wind!
But, mother, I would that I could weep: my brain
Is all on fire—and tears’ll put out fire.
Oh, that I could outweep the showery moon!

Lucy. This madness sure is catching.

Ada.        Madness! What,
Do you think me mad? I would not for the world
Be thought so.—No! I’m only a little strange,
Having some living creature in my brain
That was not always there;—something that gnaws it.
But surely I could never be so wicked
As to go mad!—Alas! they shouldn’t have killed him!
He was so young and hopeful!

Mrs. L.        Be the hand
Accursed, that blighted thus the one bright bloom
That breathed so sweetly on my wintry bough!

Lucy. What! don’t you know me, Ada?

Ada.        Yes—I know you.
Your name is Lucy, and mine’s Ada: nay,
My memory is good. And I remember, too,
The feast we had, under yon willow tree,
The day I promised to be Abel’s bride.
They say I wept that day—and, if I did,
I now know why. But Abel was all gladness!
Oh, he sang sweeter than a bird in the Spring!
And, dancing in the glory of his joy,
His step was like the light of evening’s star
Upon the rippling river! But he’s gone!—
Gone to be clothed with the white clouds that keep
So far away—the small white clouds.—I have it!
I’ll to the mountains where they rest. I’ll sneak—
So softly—hush! I’ll catch one there; and then
Knot it around me, and it shall bear me away
Like a morning dream! But not without you, mother!
No!—it were cruel to leave you here alone;
But Lucy—she shall stay; because her heart
Though bruised, is not yet broken.

(She sings.)

O they that are joyous and hopeful of heart
    Are very loth to die:
From the sun and the moon and the stars to part,
    And down with the worms in the grave to lie.

Lucy. Alas! methinks I follow her wild words
With thoughts as wild.

Mrs. L.        See, Lucy, see! She smiles
At something now; sadly indeed, but sweetly,
As dreaming infancy.

Lucy.        What have you there?

Ada. Only a little foolish rose, that looked
This morning in the dews, saying the while
To its sweet self—Behold the pride of the garden!
The blushing bride of the bee! And then the wind
Grew loud and shook it down! I am going now
To let it look into my glass, to see
If it will know itself! I doubt it will not:
For every one is loth to believe an hour
Can work such terrible changes as it can.
I’ll go, and give’t a peep.


Mrs. L.        Oh, Lucy, Lucy!
I’m so rejoiced! Isn’t she calm? quite calm;
And even sensible. She will recover!
I feel quite certain of it now—don’t you?
I’ll follow her, and keep her in this mood.


Lucy. An emblem of herself. Mysterious thoughts
Bewilder me! For I remember now,
That when but schoolgirls, often as we talked
Of womanhood, her pensive eyes would fix
As ’twere in distant gaze, and fill with tears,
Even to the special wonder of herself:
As though upon those pleasant days there fell
Some shadowing of these.—Recover? No!
For that wherein her mother’s hopes take root—
That spirit of contemplation which, at times,
Looks through her madness—shows me the disease
Has settled in the fountain of her mind.
Oh, what a sickly and unearthly sense
Must sting existence, when the thoughts are all
Swung up and beaten thus about the bounds
Of the ideal world!—which, now no more
By reason settled, keep extending still,
In infinite circles, till they leave behind
Only a haggard memory of the mass
Of broken figures they would so enclose:
And this the maniac hurries into speech
Pathetically absurd.—I’ll follow her.


SCENE II.—A rocky place at the mouth of a Ravine, with a distant view of the Cave in the background.

Enter DREADNOUGHT, BOMEBARD, CANT, and a number of other Constables.

Dreadnought. Halt awhile, till I look about me here.

(going up the Stage, as if reconnoitering the Cave.)

Bomebard (haranguing the rest). Fellow-waryers, hear me! Being a tried man, the Justices o’ Windsor have sent me many a long mile to strengthen this here hexpedition. Well then, I’ve a small request to make in consekence. ’Tis this here, my flowers o’ cavalry: if it’s a thing as how we does fall in with the Bushrangers, jist let the ’sault be led for’ard by Ned Bomebard o’ the Windsor Po-lice. There; that’s all: and what more can I say? Let deeds proclaim the rest.

Dreadnought. Let them (turning suddenly round and coming forward); and immediately. I did not tell you before, my lads, for a reason I had, of my having certain information, that, since the Fences were taken up on suspicion of harbouring them, Stalwart and his gang have kept house in yonder Cave; and that they are there, even now, I am advised by my own eyes, having just observed several armed men pass into it. Prepare, therefore, for an immediate tussle. They will not avoid us—at least Stalwart himself, and the braver of them, will not; seeing that, with bloody Mac at his heels, and a score of others full as devilish, or worse, he has been ranging about latterly even in search of opposition, like a mad tiger. Be thoroughly prepared then; and Bomebard, take you the post you have requested, in our front. Lead on!

Bomebard. Eh? —— why —— in all reason ——

Dreadnought. Lead on, I say!

Bomebard. Y-e-s. (Aside.) O Lord! I’m right-down grabbed! I shall activally be com-pelled to run bang away!


SCENE III.—Before the Cave.

Enter from it STALWART, and the rest of the Bushrangers.

Stalwart. Were there a thousand of them, I would not budge!
I’m sick of hiding from such pithless things
As yonder come against us. Paltry wretches!
Vermin that harbour in the sweaty wig
Of belly-swoll’n Legality!—I’m sick of it!
(Partly aside.) And more of being the pale and feverish slave
Of memories that make my sleep a hell,
Alive with mocking fiends. I’d know the worst
These horrible dreams can point at;—know the worst
Such ghostly visitations can forebode
Of penal retribution.

Macblood.        Tush! You’ll live
To get well, and after that. (goes to the side, looking out.)

Rackroad. Ay, many a day. (going to the side.)

Stalwart. I would not—no! For what? The very sun
Seems bright to me no longer; for my eyes
Are either blood-shot in their vision, or
There’s gore upon its face. The breath of heaven
Blows cool for me no more—I loathe to breathe it!
It comes as from perdition! Light and air,
Food, water—earth’s most vital bounties—these
Abhor me and are abhorred: they taste of death,
And minister to madness. Thus the powers
Of natural participation, all
Lie scorched within me—like a blasted grove,
On which the red tongue of the storm hath left
A special malediction.—Think you, ’tis true
That Mary Fence is dead?

(To MACBLOOD, who has returned from the side.)

Macblood.        ’Tis so reported.
She took her being in prison so to heart,
It crazed her, and she died. But ’tis no time
To think of such things.

Stalwart.        And that gentle girl
At Richmond, too, is dead?

Macblood.        So Rackroad heard
From one he talked with yesterday.

Stalwart.        And I
The living cause! (Aside.) Had I a hundred lives
I’d jump them all to-day.—Observe yon fellows!

Rackroad. Shall we go forward, or—

Stalwart.        Nothing but forward!
Stir up your spirits for a desperate fight!
For, by the unanswered blood that I have shed,
And by the horrible glooms that cloud me round,
Yon dogs, this day, shall fly before me living,
Or trample o’er me dead!

Filch.        Yet, after all,
I think we had best avoid ’em while we may:
We nothing gain by fighting with those fellows.

Stalwart. We gain revenge! And would you then avoid them?
Here is a Thing that dares but breathe by stealth
This universal air, with caverned bats,
And creatures loathsomer still; or, at the best,
With beasts of chase and the lank forest dog,
Without so sure a portion in the world
As hath the least of these: and yet, forsooth,
It would be chary of such comfort;—nay,
Would play the dastard, to preserve a being
So miserably vile! Away, you slave
In body and soul! What? do you pout, dog? Down!

(Striking him down.)

Now follow who will!

(Exit with MACBLOOD, RACKROAD, &c.)

Filch.        So!—Well, after all,
He has that hold of me I cannot but follow.

Another. Nor I: let’s follow!


SCENE IV.—In the Ravine, with the Cave still in the distance, but nearer than at first.

Enter DREADNOUGHT and his Party; BOMEBARD leading, with evident reluctance.

Dreadnought. By the Lord, yon fellows don’t seem to need any coaxing to it! They are coming full upon us. They are welcome. Now, my lads, wind up whatever is slack inwardly: for, mark me, he who flinches from his work to-day, shall be asked for to-morrow, if Brown Bess here (tapping his gun) be the coward-hater I take her for.

1st Constable. This is rather a ticklish place to follow them into.

Dreadnought. Ticklish! How ticklish? He’s a draught of ditch-water and a poltroon who would shrink from such a pursuit, even though hell were their stronghold! So, as I said before, you have nothing for it, lads, but to wind yourselves up with the key of manly resolution.

2nd Constable. For my part, I would much rather be wound up with a dram.

Dreadnought. Lead on, you valiant dog!

Bomebard (aside). I have it! (He feigns to trip, falls, and then roars lustily)— Oh, fiends o’ fate!

Dreadnought. Ha! something unlucky has happened to fighting Ned: what is it, I wonder?

Bomebard. He’s sprained his ankle horrid!

Dreadnought. Not so badly as to compel him to remain behind us at a time like this, has he? (winking to the rest.)

Bomebard. Yes. Ned Bomebard, for once in this here life, must stay behind his bold com-rades, by reason o’ fate and a sprained ankle.

Dreadnought. Now, men, are you satisfied that a bladder of wind and Ned Bomebard make a pair. Each of you behind, there, give the poltroon a sound kick as you pass him—and then forward quickly.

Bomebard (being kicked). Oh! oh!—Oh, Jew-Peter, god o’ the fernament, has it come to this here!

(Exeunt all but CANT.)

Cant. (spreading out his hands). Oh, false deciple! Thou hast eaten sour grapes. (going.)

Bomebard. What, you too? Consider this here. When my ankle’s to say properly well, I’ll box you, my old boy, for the matter of from five to ten pound in British coin o’ the rel-am—there!

Cant (shaking his head mournfully). Oh, Ned, thou art a Judas Carrot! thou art a Judas Carrot!

Bomebard. Carrot here, or carrot there, you has my challenge, my tulip!

(Exit CANT.)

Lead for’ard the ’sault? Yes, hook! (He rises.)
Let foolish Cant, there, run on vi’lent death;
Natur’, alone, shall stop wise Neddy’s breath.
I’ll home to Windsor straight, and tell old Roger
That Dreadnought, like an undermining dodger,
Ill-used me out of envy; since my fault
Was only that I wished to head the ’sault—
And, in my eagerness to lead ’em forrid,
Missed footing, fell, and sprained my ankle horrid!
There still, with bounce, the simpletons I’ll fright,
And bark the louder that I dare not bite.


SCENE V.—A small circular vale interspersed with rocks, about midway between the Cave and the mouth of the Ravine, which runs into and across it from each side.

Enter an OLD SHEPHERD, running. Fe, fie on the man—if he was a man— that first invented guns, to frighten a peaceful shepherd from his flock, namely myself, old Harry Harmless! This was the manner on’t:—I chanced to bring my sheep here to-day, into this nook, hearing there was nice picking in’t; and there was I in the midst o’ them, where I do delight to be, taking a comfortable loll under a wild oak, which tree I do ’specially love, because its voice is so low and sleepy, like the drone of my old mother’s lullaby—God rest her dear old soul! Well, there was I, when I hears a trampling like. So I looks up; and there I sees, sure enough, right over against the flock, a whole lot of men with guns in their hands; and further to the right, up the gully here, another lot of men, all with guns in their hands too. So with that I started to my feet, and fell to a-running, and a-running, till I came here, and was obligated to stop for lack o’ breath. Fie, fie, I say again, on the man that first invented such a bloody-minded weepon as a gun! He was a wild Rooshian of Africa, or a Hottentot of Spain, I’ll be sworn—suckled by a Bengal tiger, and taughten all sorts of wickedness by a Yaho of the ’Merrikies: for what christian of Europe would invent a gun?—the same having the likeness o’ the devil’s tail (saving my presence!), the voice of his head, and the murder of his heart—which is a millstone. And, moreover, ’tis certified that he has a club-foot, and therefore, by course, must need a walking-stick: now I could be sworn further, that the same walking-stick to which I delude, is nothing else than a mighty great gun, or a blunderbust, which is all as one.—Oh, Lord! I’ll run; for if there be not a fight here with guns, in less than half-an-hour—why I see double, and ’tis one and the same party I seem to see meeting from there and there—(pointing different ways.) Nay, not so; for there’s more in one than t’other. Oh, Lord! I’ll run—yes, even to the land’s end—to ’scape the death of a shotten man by mistake.

(Exit running. Enter STALWART and the Bushrangers in front, as DREADNOUGHT and the Police appear among the rocks at the back.

Stalwart. Welcome, ye pitiful scrag-ends of the law!
’Tis time that ye were taught the striking difference
’Twixt forest fare, and the callousing of your elbows
Lounging on Lock-up benches!

Dreadnought.        We are come, not
To bandy big robustious words about,
Having small skill in scholarship o’ the kind,
Being plain men, d’ye see! Three or four words,
Nor long nor learned, is all we have to say:—
Yield or we fire!

Stalwart.        Ask the unspancled horse,
That never liked the curb, to put his proud
Uplifted head into your hand; and say,
Shall he not toss his mane upon the wind
And neigh forth laughter—laughter of defiance?
So take you mine—hah! hah!—and, with it, this!

(He fires at them. A volley is discharged on both sides. Some of the Constables and Bushrangers fall, and STALWART himself staggers forward.

Stalwart. The play is over. That damned fellow has pinked me.

Desperate (supporting him.) Where?

Stalwart. Right in the neck, here.

Macblood. Let’s close round him, boys!

Rackroad. Ay, to a man!

Filch. Fear not; we’ll stick to him!

Stalwart. Who calls? What icy hand is this, I say,
That has me by the throat?

(Renewed firing. STALWART falls out of DESPERATE’S hands.

Desperate (stooping to him). How is it with you now?

Stalwart. Hark! Hell is roaring!
Why do you leave me here in the dark? What! Abel?
And you! And you! Was’t I that killed you all?
Five—six:—no matter! None but friends should visit
A man so horrible sick! Out with ye! Pah!
Alive with worms? Keep off! What, nearer? Ha!
Embrace not me ye ghastly things! Away!
Ye love me not—(rising suddenly to his knees)
                And therefore have ye come
To drink up all the air! Away, I say,
Or I will strike—(sinking backwards.) Hah! hah!
Well may you triumph now! Guilty! guilty!
I did not plead Not Guilty! Mercy!

He springs upward, falls, and dies. The Bushrangers crowd round the body, grounding their arms in token of surrender; while the Police rush forward to secure them:—the whole forming a Stage picture as the Curtain slowly descends to triumphant music.


The Bushrangers - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    Charles Harpur Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback