The Bushrangers: A play in five acts

And other poems

The Bushrangers


Charles Harpur

SCENE 1.—Before the Red Lion in Windsor.


Shoemaker. So they took none o’ them?

Tailor. Not an individival. But Dreadnought or Bomebard—’tisn’t settled which—shot Stalwart down and left him for dead; but on coming to the place again, look you, he had vanished like a spirit o’ the elements.

Shoemaker. Look you, neighbour, he’s a ’chanted man. But ’twas Bomebard did it, I’ll be affidavited. What’s said of him?

Tailor. That he fout awful like. But ’thas finished his spoiling. He was always a horrid Tartar; but now,—why it’s dangerous even to look at him as he passes.

Shoemaker. He mislests every one.

Tailor. Yes! ‘cept the swells: and the Magistrates ’ill hear no story but his, because, I s’pose, he’s so downdacious resolute like. Old Tunbelly calls him his Bengal Tiger. Only think of Christian men—and what’s more, Magistrates o’ the Peace—making use of such heathenish lingo as that! What ’ill the world come to?—Now, I myself, am a man of very weak nerves—terrible, exceeding weak nerves, sir,—terrible!

Shoemaker. So be I: I was always timersome like, man and boy. But let’s in and have our morning.

Tailor. Ha! have a care, friend. We have been talking o’ the devil, and here he comes, I do declare, like mad! If he mislests us, neighbour, let us be prudent with him. The Magistrates,—’specially Tunbelly, ’ill hear no story but his.

Enter BOMEBARD, drunk.

Bomebard. Give me glory and friddum, say I!—Who are yous? Are you men o’ mettle or filthy cowards? Answer me that.

Tailor. We be quiet men; and thanks to our breeding, men that are as honest as men well can be. You know us very well, neighbour.

Bomebard. Neighbour? Foh? Answer me this here: What is Ned Bomebard by natur’ and compacity?

Tailor. A terrible exceeding brave fellow!

Bomebard. And the right-hand man o’ the Magistrates?

Shoemaker. That you be!

Bomebard. And forby that, the ragin’ lion o’ the Windsor Constab’lary—’stead o’ the Waliant Dog?

Tailor. And no mistake.

Bomebard. Well then, to show yous that I ain’t too proud o’ my dig-nitty, I don’t care if I takes a dram with the pair o’ yous—purwiding one o’ yous stands flat. I’ve been on the spree all night myself, my dymons o’ goold, though I am a hofficer. But what then? A hofficer is a mortal man, and must git drunk now and then, like a man o’ mortality—mustn’t he?

Shoemaker. In course he must.

Bomebard. You speaks natur’s truth, my pigeon: whereby, by reason o’ which, so forth an’ cetra, let’s in and have this here dram. Another nip ’ill jist send me home to bed comfortable—and you’ll stand flat, like a hemp’ror, won’t you?

Shoemaker. That I will.

Tailor. And so will I.

(Exeunt into the Red Lion.)

SCENE II.—A Meadow near Richmond.

Enter ABEL and ADA.

Abel. The sun is just uprising. See, sweet Ada,
What a vast wreath of golden cloud envelopes
Yon swell in the dark forest. Seems it not
A splendid turban wrapt in rising folds
About the shaggy and recumbent head
Of some old fabled giant?

Ada.        Yes: and yet
I cannot choose but smile,—your similies
Are so extravagant always. Yesterday,
You could compare the river as it wound
Shining between its banks o’erclumpt with shades
Then heaping in the wind, to nought besides
A fabled monster—a leviathan
Cleaving his strenuous passage through the waves
Of ocean, tempest-tossed.

Abel.        Well, for the future
They shall not deal in monsters. To begin—
Know you what most the sun resembles, there
Just risen now, and glowing through the dark
And drooping tresses of the forest?

Ada.        Oh!
What may be likened to a Thing so glorious!

Abel. Even two things.

Ada.        Name them.

Abel.        Thy love-speaking eyes
As now, half lifted from the ground, they glow
Through their dark silken fringes.

Ada.        Nay, now, Abel,
You flatter me by wholesale. Let me go.

Abel. By heaven, I do not flatter. Hear me, Ada!
The light of thy blue eyes is dearer far
To me, than is the sun’s; for I could live
Contented in its influence, though shut
From the broad day—but Ada, I should die,
Even ’neath a sun more golden, if denied
Thy precious looks of love.

Ada.        Then spare me, Abel.
But said you not that you had need to haste,
To keep appointment with some friends?

Abel.        Aye, true.
But whether so early also?

Ada.        To the woods, here,
Not far, to gather some particular flowers
I saw there yesterday, before the dews
Shall cease to freshen, and the steadier gaze
Of the proud sun oppress them.

Abel.        But bethink you,
’Tis somewhat perilous to go alone
Just now into the woods.

Ada.        Because of robbers?
Nay, ’tis not likely any now should keep
So near the scene of their late danger.

Abel.        Hardly.
But mind you meet me at the gate to-night.

Ada. Perhaps—if you will promise faithfully
To leave your flattery all behind you.

Abel.        Flattery?

Ada. Yes. Leave it behind you; and perhaps I may
Be at the gate tonight. (Exit.

Abel. There I, at least, Will surely be.—Behold her how she goes Forth in her fresh bright beauty, like a Joy Born of the breathing gladness of the morn!

(He sings.)

Oh, how gentle, frank, and kind—
How pure of heart, how clear of mind—
How simple—and yet how refin’d
    Is my enchanting Ada?

She looks so happy when we meet,
And smiles so innocently sweet,
That, even if prone to all deceit,
    I could not wrong my Ada.

I wooed her trembling—but to see
A mutual love rise glowingly,
And win her virgin vow to be
    My own—my only Ada.


SCENE III.—The Skirt of the Forest. Richmond in the distance.

Enter STALWART, supporting himself with an untrimmed bough.

Stalwart. My wound is maddening me! What shall I do?
To seek relief in yonder Town’s to seek
A dungeon also—and my heart bitterly envies
The veriest wretch that now may cower beside
Its scantiest hearth. ’Tis horrible! I had best
Surrender: Yes, ’twere surely better far
Than moping here, even like a soul in hell,
That vainly hopes, by ever wandering on,
To find some region less instinct with woe—
Some spot less saturate with torturing wrath,
Than that he treads!—Ha! who comes here? A woman!
’Tis even so—a young and lovely woman!
Benevolence, simplicity, and truth
Sit in bright union on her happy face!
How shall I act? I’ll ask assistance. Yes.
But then the cause:—my wound—the place—the need
Of secrecy, will indicate at once
My real condition. Well then, I will trust
All to her pity; that quick pity, which
At sight of pain, hath a prevailing part
In every purple drop that throbbeth through
The eloquent heart of Woman.

Enter ADA with a basket of Flowers.

Gentle Maiden
Take pity on a forlorn and wounded man!

Ada. (much alarmed.) Good heaven! how came you thus?

Stalwart.        Ah! may I tell?
Have you heard aught of a wild fray that chanced
Hard by here, in the Forest?

Ada.        Yes, indeed,
Every circumstance—and I do hope
Even for the sake of pity, that you are not
The terrible robber, Stalwart!

Stalwart.        Gentle maiden,
I am that wretched—that repented outlaw.

Ada. Then must I fly you, terrible man!—
    (After a pause, she communes with herself.) Alas!
Said he not—wretched and repented both?
And truly he looks most wretched: and methinks
I do not fear him now. No; and ’twere wrong
Surely to leave him thus, (so pleads my heart,)
On the sharp edge of pitiless pain.—Indeed,
My heart is sobbing with compassion for you;
But though my charity relieve you, yet
My honesty must divulge the fact; for you
Do bear a very—very evil name.

Stalwart. Look on me, maiden! Do I seem the fierce
And merciless fiend, that blind and vulgar fear
Hath given me out? Nay! trust me, fairest one,
As you, yourself, would be believed by him
Most dear to you—I, even I, am more
Unfortunate than guilty. Hear my story.
A villain’s dupe at first, I found myself
An exile, and a tyrant’s bondman;—one,
Who for some reason I could never learn,
Both feared and hated me;—and who, with all
The petty fretfulness of power so placed,
Was wont to solace the meanness of his hate,
And mask its utter cowardice, the while,
With hourly hurling the opprobrious term
Of convict in my teeth! I sought redress,
In vain! the Law was an oppressor too!
I murmured—and was scourged! Oh! ’twas too much!
Wrath thundered in my heart! Their bonds enringed
My limbs as with intolerable fire!—
I cast them off! I cursed my kind—and fled,
Outlawed but free, into the woods: where now
My name, notorious from my having baffled
The vigilance of the Police so long,
Is daily debited with such crimes as I
Nor do, not would, commit.

Ada.        Alas! poor man—
His words have all the weight of truth. I must
Concert some means with Abel—

Stalwart.        Who is Abel?
Say, will he not betray me?

Ada.        No—not when
I tell him all: he has the kindliest heart—
He’ll not betray you. But, before I stir
In this strange matter, I exact your promise
To this effect—But how?—’tis certain that (to herself.
His person is well known; yes, and ’twere death
For him to dwell, even in a backwood hut,
Ungarrisoned against the Law itself
By lawless violence, or fraud—

Stalwart.        Your scruples,
Fair Charity, attest your virtue. But
Now hear what I propose: and, by yourself—
(An oath to bind the worst) I swear to keep
The promise I shall make, as faithfully
As grace serves heaven. When that I am whole,
Through your so generous aid, I’ll straightway seek
Amongst yon mountains their most difficult cave,
Where never yet the sound of human speech,
Save of the dusky savage, or a cry
Less dreary than the wild-dog’s, hath disturbed
The ancient reign of Solitude;—and there,
Scantily sustained by what the hollow trees,
And scrubs, and rivulets afford, I’ll wear
The unperverted future out in pure
Repentance for the past.

Ada.        I am satisfied:
And now for your immediate relief.
Hard by, there stands a ruined house, obscured
By a rank growth of wattles—you may see
Its crumbling gable yonder, jutting through
Their circling foliage. It contains, I think,
One weather-proof apartment; and the place
Is seldom sought, having an evil name
For deeds of death, which, ere my memory,
’Tis said, were there committed. House you there;
While I speed home for bandages, and what
Your state may else require.


Stalwart.        I have succeeded
Beyond all hope. How graciously compassion
Shone through her innocence! Now, if it were
But possible for me to urge, in future,
Some better course, ’twere surely at the bidding
Of so much beauty and goodness. But I can
At least be grateful—yes! to fail in that,
Were to be ten times damned. Yonder’s the ruin;
And this the nearest and most secret way.


SCENE IV.—Before Fence’s House.

Enter MACBLOOD, RACKROAD, DESPERATE, FILCH, and others, with OLD FENCE, MRS. FENCE, and their daughter, MARY.

Mrs. Fence. - Well; ’twas his fate, as the saying is, and has been the fate o’ many a good man afore him. Ods! gal—(to Mary) you do nothing but mope, an’ hang your head, an’ stare when you’re spoke to! What the dickens! was he the only man i’ the world? Have a good hearty cry, and ha’ done with it.

Old Fence. That’s what I tell her.

Mary. I cannot—my heart is dry.

Rackroad. So is mine, for that matter. Our life is the devil without a leader that all rely on: and he had no fellow in the profession.

Filch. Not in open scrimmage and road-work: it was only in finger business and house-prigging that he wasn’t so gifted like as some others be.

Desperate. Well, I care not an’ I were with him, wherever he is: above or below.

1st Bushranger. We begin sorely to miss him already.

Macblood. Well, lads, we must even do the best we may. He died as a gentleman of the bush should wish to die—and there’s an end of the matter. Let’s all join in the Ranger’s Dirge to his memory, and then in to business.

Old Fence. In course.

Mrs. Fence. That’s proper.



    He lived as a Ranger should live,
Fearing nothing above or below!
    Ever ready a friend in his need to relieve—
    And yet he nor borrowed nor bought to give,
But compelled from his betters the rhino—and so
    He lived as a Ranger should live.

    He died as a Ranger should die,
Like a lion defying his foe!
    In the green forest shade where he gloried to lie
    And list the wild breezes go piping by;
With his gun smoking hot in his death-grip—and so
    He died as a Ranger should die.

(The Scene closes as the Dirge ends.)

The Bushrangers - Contents    |    Act III

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